Weston, Robert Paul. Dust City (2010). 299 Pages. RazorBill. $16.99
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?
His son, that’s who.
Ever since his father’s arrest for the murder of Little Red Riding Hood, teen wolf Henry Whelp has kept a low profile in a Home for Wayward Wolves . . . until a murder at the Home leads Henry to believe his father may have been framed.
Now, with the help of his kleptomaniac roommate, Jack, and a daring she-wolf named Fiona, Henry will have to venture deep into the heart of Dust City; a rundown, gritty metropolis where fairydust is craved by everyone and controlled by a dangerous mob of Water Nixies and their crime boss leader, Skinner.
Can Henry solve the mystery of his family’s sinister past? Or, like his father before him, is he destined for life as a big bad wolf?
Once upon a time, fairydust came from where you’d expect. From fairies. I was only a cub, so I don’t remember much of what the City was like back then. But I have a strong sense that things were different. Dreams could come true. You read about it in the paper. I’ve seen the clippings.
I read this book in approximately 2.5 hours, while I was waiting for my car to get serviced. It is not a difficult read– except when it comes to wrapping your head around the world– and doesn’t feature any particularly difficult concepts. It’s a pretty simple book, which doesn’t truly become complex at any point. There are themes of self-discovery, class-divisions, and racism, to name a few, but they aren’t particularly strong or meaningful.
Henry Whelp is likable, but flat. His father– the Big Bad Wolf, in prison for the vicious murder of Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother– is a vague character whose shadow Henry longs to escape. He is surrounded by fairy-tale cameos which stay just about as flat as he does– Detective White, the scary loner who was raised by seven men, or Jack the kleptomaniac who uses beans, Cindy, the headmistress of St Remus* Home for Wayward Youth, Skinner, the Rumpelstiltskin with the midas touch, and others who should be fairly obvious. All of them are there, and most of them add something, but none of them really pop or seem rounded.
The entire book rests upon a conceit which is difficult to pull off; Henry is a wolf, an anthropomorphized wolf who walks on two legs, wears clothing, and speaks. Nearly all the animals have evolved to become this way– some sooner than others– and because of this, there are two real classes; hominids– the humanoid life-forms which are not animal-based– and animalia– the anthropomorphized creatures with fur. On top of that, fairy tale characters have been thrown into a gritty, urban scene and given a fairydust addiction.
If it were written for adults, with an eye for the dark, and twisted, rather than being written for teens, this book might have been better. There is something truly horrific going on in this city, but rather than delving into it, the story seems to hold itself back, being just a little weird, but not truly touching the horror. It touches upon the dystopian elements– Dust City is a false-utopia– but seems to stop just a little shy of where it should have gone with that concept.
Beware, here be spoilers. Hilight to read.
The fairies are dead, and their bones are being ground up, and animals are going to be stripped of all cognitive ability, but it’s all okay because they find the evil corporation? Really? They’re grinding up dead fairies and getting people to snort it, but it’s alright? It’s pretty freaking horrific, but it’s left so vague and distant that it never really sinks in, which weakens the story so much that it’s not even really scary. Had it been executed well, this might have been brilliant.
End of Spoiler-Zone
When all is said and done, I think it was a unique idea which could have been great if it had been executed slightly better. It is something different, but it seems to hold itself back, perhaps because it is “for teens,” or perhaps because of something else. Because of this, the story gets something which could have been a 4 or 5 because it could have been great, but is ultimately only a 3, because it fell so short of its promise.
* Since this place was seemingly meant for wolves and canines, I think this was a vague Romulus & Remus reference, but I’m not wholly sure. Also, I think it should have been “St Remus’s.”